There’s a seventh circle of hell reserved for escort missions. Within that circle is a VIP area for escort missions with a physics-driven ball – while you’re a ball yourself – stuck in a convoluted maze with time limits, enemies and a three-heart health system that resets you to the start when you die.
Tin & Kuna may look like a cute, family friendly platformer, but don’t let it fool you. It’s a stress factory, cranking out levels that will leap beyond difficulty and into some uncharted new areas. It can make you feel like you’re pushing a broken shopping trolley through a Ninja Warrior course.
That might make it sound like controlling the titular character of Kuna is unintuitive, which is completely untrue. It’s a positive of the game that the basic controls are superb: you can jump with pinpoint accuracy, and you can stop the rolling armadillo on a one penny piece. I don’t recall playing anything in the roller genre – not Marble Madness, Marble Blast Ultra, Kororinpa or any other – that feels this good. Even when considered as a platformer (Tin & Kuna sits somewhere between the roller and platforming genres, like a modern day Snake Rattle & Roll), the controls feel slick.
No, no, the basic controls are fine. It’s what Black River Studios wants you to do with those controls that make Tin & Kuna one of the most stressful gaming experiences I’ve encountered. I’m getting anxiety tics just writing about it.
The aim of the game is to roll/jump your little armadillo character across various platforms to get to the end. So far, so good. But to open a portal at the end of the level, you will invariably have to nudge a Power Crystal into a cavity, triggering a portal out of the area. In principle this sounds simple, but you are a ball and the Power Crystal is a ball too, which introduces Infuriation #1: snooker cueing two balls with any kind of precision is incredibly difficult and, most importantly, not that fun. Your ball-escort will sidle up to barriers, get stuck under enemies, or dangle – Italian Job style – on the edge of a precipice, with nothing left to do but nudge it over. Sure, you can say ‘git gud’ and demand that your reviewer should master this delicate art, but the basic premise of bouncing one ball around by using another ball feels such a clumsy proposition. And other factors layer on to compound the problem.
Infuriation #2: Levels are surprisingly long, yet implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system. Okay, so you have your imprecise ball-nudging mechanic; now, add a punitive health system. Three strikes might seem a lot, until you realise that an enemy knocking you off a cliff counts as two strikes – for the damage and the fall – and this will be the most common death. Add in the length of a level, the sheer density of hazards, and the relentless spewing forth of new, unforeseen hurdles, and you have a potent challenge. For some levels, it was too potent for my taste, particularly from the second world onwards.
Infuriation #3: whenever there is an opportunity to be unfair, the game takes it. This might seem a little cry-baby, but hear me out. An example: there’s a temporary ability that a player can gain from a pylon that ‘hooks’ their character to the Power Stone. This means that the player can jump with the ball, taking it to areas that nudging won’t manage. But then the game decides that the ‘hooking’ will only last five seconds or so, and creates a sequence of five or six platforms that require you to use this ability (looking at you, Level 11). What this means is that you will be running backwards and forwards to this hooking pylon, hoping you have enough time before the power elapses, all with the threat of the three strikes (or the ball falling off a platform) that will send you to the start again.
There is no reason why the hooking pylon had to have such prohibitive time limits, or that so many platforms needed to be navigated in a row. It’s just a sadistic edge that the developers Black River Studios jab you in the gut with. In all honesty, the repetition is more boring than anything else.
You can probably get a sense of my overriding opinion of Tin & Kuna. I certainly wasn’t expecting to come out of the other side feeling so (lightly) traumatised. After all, it presents itself as a beautiful platformer, vibrantly coloured and with lovely, tactile levels. The characterful, Looney-Tunes-esque characters are animated with aplomb. The title itself even made me think that this would be a gentle co-op platformer, when in reality Tin was whisked away at the start, and I was left to stare into the gaming abyss by myself. As a visual package, it’s a winner. I’d happily sit and watch a Saturday morning cartoon based on the world created here. Just please don’t make me manhandle any balls while I do it.
There’s certainly love poured all over it too. There are three collectibles and three objectives to be found on each of the 40 levels, and a boss level to round off each of the four worlds, which will generally ask you to chase after a dramatically changed Tin. Snappy little cutscenes interrupt the flow, and give the leanest of stories to proceedings. It should be noted that the version I played was missing audio, but YouTube videos of the game offer a bubbly score that suits the visuals well.
The levels are also reasonably inventive, with a new enemy, ability or obstacle thrown in at a hell of a rate – probably two every level. That alacrity causes issues, as you’ll master a section only to find that there’s a new obstacle, with new unfathomable rulesets, ready to whip you back to the start, but it regardless shows that Tin & Kuna is a labour of love without a single shortcut taken.
This combustible cocktail of craft and stress makes Tin & Kuna tough to score. There is clearly something here for challenge junkies, and the caveats I’ve offered might even be positives for some. But keep in mind that the challenge is not just because it is difficult: it’s repetitive and boring in places, testing your patience by asking you to complete the same difficult feat over and over in sequence. It’s imprecise in how it asks you to escort your ball home. And it’s unfair in how it treats damage and mistakes, forcing you to encounter everything I have warned you about, all over again.
Tin & Kuna may look adorable, but they’re stress balls, and not in the relaxing sense. A joy for the eyes and ears, then, but expect pain in every other part of your body, as you fall off the same platform over and over and over.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.